young sheldon
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Young Sheldon: what makes this show so great?

The third series of Young Sheldon has just starting airing on E4, and I for one couldn’t be happier – despite initially finding it a disappointing watch, I’ve now fallen in love with the adventures of the young genius. Now, at the risk of being contentious, I like The Big Bang Theory and it does genuinely make me laugh, but I’d be remiss if I said it was superior to its spin-off. So, even if you’re not a fan of TBBT, here’s why you should watch Young Sheldon.

The show follows the adventures of nine-year-old Sheldon (Iain Armitage), growing up in East Texas in the late 1980s/early 1990s. His superior intellect sees him attending high school, where he tries to fit the world around him, to the cause of much difficulty for his family. Meanwhile, his family undergo their own adventures – his twin sister Missy (Raegan Revord) contends with her difficult brother, his brother Georgie (Montana Jordan) attempts to win over the girl of his dreams, and his parents Mary (Zoe Perry) and George (Lance Barber) try to cope with their children. And, whenever he’s struggling with a social situation, Sheldon can always rely on his beloved Meemaw (Annie Potts) – at least, unless he’s managed to annoy her too.

Outside of Sheldon and possibly Amy, The Big Bang Theory really didn’t know what to do with its supporting characters as the show went on, reducing them to the same jokes and punchlines

Young Sheldon takes many of the issues with TBBT and resolves them, making it a more cohesive watch. Outside of Sheldon and possibly Amy, TBBT really didn’t know what to do with its supporting characters as the show went on, reducing them to the same jokes and punchlines. There are only so many times that you can use ‘Penny sleeps around’ or ‘Stuart is depressed and ill’ as jokes before the impact vanishes – it’s certainly not something that can sustain such a long-running show, much as they tried.

The spin-off, however, has more of a focus on character development (necessarily so, with it essentially being a prequel), and this carries across its cast – it’s a family sitcom that focuses on all parts of the family, and it means that the jokes arise out of actual character work. There’s no laugh track, but the show is probably funnier because the laughs are organic, growing out of the characters and their reactions to events (and not, as in TBBT, simply nerds referencing nerd culture). Even smaller characters feel like real people – of particular note is Wallace Shawn as Dr John Sturgis, Sheldon’s correspondent and his Meemaw’s partner, who manages to be adorable and hilarious in equal measure.

Mary is a devout Christian and Sheldon is an atheist, but the show steers clear of The Big Bang Theory’s example of Sheldon just insulting his mother for her beliefs, instead depicting questions of faith as a dialogue

By focusing on character, Young Sheldon is also able to really hit the emotional beats in a way that feels earned and genuine. Episodes have seen the family struggling with George’s heart attack or the aftermath of Dr Sturgis’ mental breakdown, and these are treated seriously and with dignity, instead of as opportunities for cheap laughs. A good example is how the show treats religion – Mary is a devout Christian and Sheldon is an atheist, but the show steers clear of TBBT’s example of Sheldon just insulting his mother for her beliefs, instead depicting questions of faith as a dialogue. In one episode, Mary struggles with her faith after the death of a young neighbour, and Sheldon’s rationalisations help her with her conflicted feelings. Similarly, Sheldon’s conversion to Judaism to emulate Einstein is resolved with a conversation with a rabbi, in one of the most serious TV discussions about religion that I’ve ever seen.

There are few who will admit to enjoying TBBT, but that’s the beauty of this spin-off – much like Frasier to Cheers, the two shows are separate enough that you don’t need to have watched one to enjoy the enough. Although they feed into each other (we get to see young Sheldon’s oft-mentioned attempts to build a nuclear reactor, for example, or the origin of the phrase ‘Bazinga’) and Jim Parsons reprises his role as adult Sheldon to narrate, the shows stand up on their own legs. Young Sheldon is a well-constructed family sitcom, funny and full of heart.

I know that, to comedy fans, the spectre of a Bing Bang spin-off may be incredibly discouraging. But it is honestly one of the funniest sitcoms currently on air, and you’re really missing out if you don’t give it a go.

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